MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ash Barty didn’t play competitive tennis in almost a year. It seemed like she didn’t miss a beat.
Top-ranked Barty cashed in on her first championship point against Garbine Muguruza in the Yarra Valley Classic and Daniil Medvedev clinched the ATP Cup title for Russia within seconds of each other Sunday as the tuneup tournaments for the Australian Open were culminating the eve of the year’s first major.
After a hectic preparation, which included 14-day quarantines under strict COVID-19 pandemic regulations for the 1,200 or so players, coaches and staff who flew in for the Australian Open, the warmup week was being capped with five finals and two semifinals.
Barty claimed her second WTA on home soil — just over a year after her first — with a 7-6 (3), 6-4 win over sixth-seeded Muguruza, the Australian Open runner-up last year.
Barty didn’t leave Australia after the coronavirus outbreak became a global pandemic. Instead of playing the U.S. Open or trying to defend her French Open title, she spent her time practicing, playing golf and doing things like watching her favorite football team win the Australian Football League.
There were small clusters of spectators at Margaret Court Arena to watch Barty’s final. Still, that’s more of a crowd than most players have been accustomed to seeing at their matches during the pandemic. On Monday, when the Australian Open starts, there’s expected to be up to 30,000 fans at Melbourne Park.
“Thanks for making this week possible,” Barty said to the organizers. “From a player standpoint, we’re incredibly grateful.”
Of the crowd, she said: “For us, this is what makes the magic happen.”
“I’m so grateful you can be here making it extra special for us,” she added. “Seeya next week.”
Muguruza had dropped only 10 games — never more than two in a set — in her previous four straight-set victories at the tournament, including a 6-2, 6-2 quarterfinal win over 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.
The two-time major winner got the first break of serve to lead 3-1 before Barty broke back. Muguruza broke again and had a chance to serve for the first set, before Barty went on a roll.
The Australian star used her slice backhand and drop shots to keep Muguruza moving around the court, and mixed some powerful forehands with variety — clinching the match with a lob.
Barty will get the day off Monday because the bottom half of the Australian Open women’s draw will be played on the first day, featuring Serena Williams starting another bid for a record 24th Grand Slam singles title, No. 3-ranked Naomi Osaka and No. 2-ranked Simona Halep.
The top half of the men’s draw is set for Monday, with Novak Djokovic starting his quest for a third consecutive Australian Open title with a first-round match against Jeremy Chardy and No. 3-ranked Dominic Thiem, the runner-up here last year, opening against Mikhail Kukushkin.
RUSSIA WINS ATP CUP
At Rod Laver Arena, No. 4-ranked Daniil Medvedev secured Russia’s 2-0 win over Italy in the ATP Cup final when he beat Matteo Berrettini 6-4, 6-2.
Andrey Rublev had given Russia a commanding start with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Fabio Fognini.
Russia didn’t lose a singles match during the group stage or the playoffs, and is the second team to win the ATP Cup after Novak Djokovic led Serbia to the inaugural title last year.